Incumbent Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) is the sole candidate running for District 29 with barely enough time to recover from the extensive recent legislative session.
Heading into the next term, the only thing on his mind is the fiscal situation and balancing the budget for the state.
“If we curtail spending and bring in new measures, that may be the only way Alaska climbs out of this hole we are in,” Chenault said.
Chenault said Gov. Bill Walker’s deficit reduction package, dropped at the start of the second special session in July, was too much for many legislators to swallow at once.
He said he was willing to bring the proposals to the House floor for a vote but couldn’t find the support to justify the action. Further, putting so much out at once often has a negative effect, and one item may be used against another as political collateral, he said.
“We might have been able to get more done if we had less items on the table,” he said.
In his experience, Chenault said passing legislation is likely going to be a lengthy process. It takes time to come up with a comprehensive plan that includes the ideas and approval of a majority of legislators.
One of his own successful pieces of legislation, adding a cost differential equation into the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Foundation Formula roughly eight years ago, took five years to pass, he said.
Chenault said he isn’t outright against any of the items in Walker’s budget reduction package, although the income tax is last on his list of items to approve, but there are too many unknowns that exist to make an immediate call.
“It depends on what the actual legislation looks like,” he said.
In Chenault’s opinion, reducing social services, looking at government spending and tapping into more of Alaska’s resources is a balanced approach to balancing the budget.
He is a longtime supporter of the Alaska LNG Project, which, if it turns into an economically viable project, he said will do far more than just bring jobs into the state and to his constituents in Nikiski. The project will open up areas in the Interior and around Fairbanks for resource exploration such as gold mining and extraction, Chenault said.
“We don’t know what all the options are until it’s built,” he said.
Right now, Chenault said he doesn’t believe the project is where it needs to be for partners to make any solid decisions on whether to invest in the long term or not.
Costs still need to be brought down, and no one may know how that will look for another six months to a year, he said.
However, he is hopeful.
“We have the best talent on this project,” Chenault said. “They are doing all they can to bring the costs down, and to make this project work.”
People are still serious about it. A lot of funding has been and is being pumped into laying the groundwork for the project, he said.
While Chenault’s focus remains on expanding access to non-renewable resources — which he said is the first step in securing a better quality of life for many Alaskans, especially those living in some of the state’s poorest regions — he is not against exploring renewable resources when and where it makes sense.
Chenault pointed to Kodiak Island, which relies nearly entirely on wind energy for power, and to Juneau, which has strongly invested in hydroelectricity.
“… You need copper to build wind generators, and how are you going to get that?” Chenault said. “You have to go mine it.”
Chenault said he is confident in his knowledge of the legislative system and in his working relationships with his colleagues including Gov. Walker, and looks forward to representing his constituents in the next session.
Chenault has served in the Alaska House of Representatives since 2001.
The longtime Alaskan moved to the Nikiski area in 1967 and graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1975. He has four children and is married to Tanna Chenault.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.